Writing for Comics

I started writing a comic about this time last year, and since then I’ve managed to not only finalize the script but actually start getting pages drawn and posted. And even though it’s been a year, I have learned a lot. Mostly by learning from my mistakes.

The first thing to realize with scripting is that, even though you’re still putting words on a page, is that the script isn’t the final product. In this case, the comic is. But this is also true for scripts for film or stage or games. Unlike writing short stories or novels, where the words and how they appear on the page are the final product, the script is just a stepping stone. 

In a weird way, that makes scripting a lot looser and easier to manage. It also opens the door to it being much more difficult.

So here’s a page from the script I wrote for my webcomic.

script-for-post

As you can see, it’s pretty….. unrefined. I wasn’t overly concerned about how I was describing the scenes, as long as I could paint enough of a picture that I was getting my idea across. I was actually way more concerned with the dialogue, because those were really the only words that were actually going to appear in the final product.

And for reference, here’s what the finished page from the comic looks like.

p-5-final

As you can see, there’s kind of a big jump from the script to the finished project.

But I will admit that this script is pretty lazy. I was only writing it for myself, because I’m also the artist. The only person who was going to really read this (other than a few VERY KIND AND INTREPID BETA READERS) was me. And I was really the only person who had to interpret this garbled mess in order to draw it later. So yeah, I got pretty lazy with it.

If you’re going to do a comic where you’re both the writer and the artist, you can get away with being lazy. But if you’re going to have someone else do the art for you (or acting or programming or whatever) then you’re really going to have to clean it up.

Speaking as an artist, if I was going to try to draw something based on someone else’s script, here are the things I’m going to need/would really like to see:

  • Descriptions of both setting AND peopleSee basically how I didn’t do any of that in mine? Yeah. Don’t do that to your artist. The only reason I got away with it is because I was the artist. Describe the layout of the place, what your characters look like, maybe even some costuming notes if you want to be wearing something noticeable/recognizable. Because otherwise I’m going to draw EVERYONE IN SHAPELESS TUNICS.

    You don’t really need to give a intricate, detailed report of what every chair and table looks like. But if you want the setting to be “in a bar” then toss a few descriptors to your artist. Is it wild west-era saloon, with wood everywhere and a mirror behind the bar? Is in an upscale classy place with soft lighting from lamps and lots of cushy furniture? A little bit of description can go a long way for an artist. Is there a lot of furniture? Is is barren or is it overcrowded?

  • Page breaks and panelsLike, I could, theoretically, do the page and panel breaks for you as an artist. But honestly? It probably wouldn’t be pretty. Like, a page is supposed to be structured with a complete thought. Like a paragraph. A panel is like a sentence. These are still really firmly in the territory of the writer. As an artist, I’m just going to make a stab in the dark which line should be grouped with what action, etc.

    So basically don’t do at all what I did. There are many, many times when Artist!Eris is cursing the existence of Writer!Eris because I didn’t put panel notes or page breaks in the script.

  • Camera anglesOkay, super weird to talk about camera angles in a comic, but yeah, sometimes as an artist I’m not exactly sure if I should be doing a really close up of the face or a very wide shot to showcase the location. Yes, some of it is pretty obvious, but if you, the writer, already have an idea in your head of how it should appear visually, make the note in the script. If the artist thinks they can make it better by changing it, they’ll ask you. (Or at least, I would. Any deviation from the script necessitates a conversation with the writer, in my opinion.)
  • Prop and action blockingI haven’t gotten to this part in my own comic yet (at least, the page isn’t posted yet), but I can tell you, I am already hitting myself for not writing the script out properly. For the love of god, don’t do what I did and say “action scene goes here.” Write it out. Give a quick run down of the actions/movements the characters should be making each panel. Tell the artist if they need to put any props in the background for characters to interact with later. Let me know if I can draw the characters holding anything, because having characters actually do things in the panels is a lot interesting to look at (not to mention more fun to draw) then just a bunch of talking heads. Thing about how you want the story to look visually, and put those actions and notes in your scripts. You don’t have to describe it elegantly, just get the point across enough that the artist can figure out a rough idea of what you want.

    I do want to point out, that really you only need to indicate and point out the things that are important to the plot and the things that the characters will actually interact with. Like, if you say “it’s farmhouse,” ten artists might draw ten slightly different variations of a farmhouse, but it’ll still be recognizable as a farmhouse. But if you really, really need that farmhouse to have a weather vane on it for plot reasons, yeah. Put that in your script. The rest of it we’ll just fill in from our own artistic experiences. This keeps you from having to describe every single little knickknack in the background.

Okay, this was a pretty hard and messy run down, but I hope you guys get the idea. And really, the most important thing in scripting is working together as a team. If the artist you’re working with has a pretty good idea already of how you want the characters to move and interact, then maybe you don’t have to concentrate so much on the blocking notes. If they tell you that they want more direction in panel placement, give it to them. Scripts are all about teamwork, so you need write and refine them with the team in mind.

And in the end? Very few people are actually going to see the script. It’s just a stepping stone to your final project. So go ahead and put in all the weirdness or fourth wall breaking notes you need to in order to get your idea across to your artist(s). As long as they get the mental picture you’re trying to describe, everything is golden.

🙂 Happy scripting!

-Eris.

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